New Delhi: India has expressed deep concern over Turkey’s unilateral military offensive in north-east Syria to create what Ankara calls a “safe zone" for the return of millions of refugees to Syria.

“Turkey’s actions can undermine stability in the region and the fight against terrorism. Its action also has the potential for causing humanitarian and civilian distress," Indian foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said in a statement.

“We call upon Turkey to exercise restraint and respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria," Kumar said adding “we urge the peaceful settlement of all issues through dialogue and discussion."

According to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish forces have killed more than 100 militants in an assault on Kurdish militia in northeast Syria.

The Turkish operation started on Wednesday, days after a pullback by US forces from the area with senior members of US President Donald Trump’s Republican Party slamming him for making way for the incursion, a Reuters report said. The decision has been widely criticized as an abandonment of Syrian Kurds.

Ankara brands the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia as terrorists because of their ties to militants who have waged an insurgency in Turkey. But many members of Congress, and US officials, credit the Kurds with fighting alongside American troops to defeat Islamic State militants.

The Indian response comes after Turkey alongwith Malaysia supported Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir, after New Delhi scrapped a temporary provision in its constitution giving special status to Kashmir. Pakistan has been seeking a reversal of the Indian move given that the scrapping of Article 370 and the redesignation of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories of Kashmir and Ladakh effectively takes the Indian administered region off the negotiation table in any dialogue with Islamabad.

During his recent visit to New York for the UN General Assembly session, Prime Minister Narendra Modi met the leaders of Armenia, Greece and Cyprus in a sign of displeasure over Turkey’s position on Kashmir. The island of Cyprus was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup. The internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government represents Cyprus in the European Union, while a breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in the north is recognized only by Ankara.

Relations between Turkey and Armenia have been uneasy over the issue of the killing of Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire by Ottoman forces during World War One. Turkey contests the view that the killings were systematically orchestrated, constituting a genocide.

Reuters contributed to this report

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